Underplayed Stories of the Day

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As the entire country agonizes over whether what’s left of its 401(k) would cover the cost of a grande latte, it’s not a surprise that some important news would have been shuffled to the airplane pages of the newspapers. Here are two big stories that under normal circumstances should have been on the front page:

On A17 of the Washington Post: The U.S. Attorney scandal now has a new prosecutor of its own, after a scathing report confirms that there were, indeed, political motives at work in the firings. An editorial on the following page notes:

The authors of the report appropriately place primary blame for the breakdown in professionalism on former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, who showed a breathtaking disengagement from the process of disposing of nine presidential appointees. Mr. Gonzales told investigators that he delegated the task of identifying underperforming U.S. attorneys to his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. Mr. Gonzales never inquired about or laid out the standards Mr. Sampson would use to evaluate these prosecutors. Mr. Sampson acknowledged in the report that he did not recommend the dismissal of some “mediocre” prosecutors because they enjoyed home state political support. That Mr. Sampson placed more importance on the U.S. attorneys’ political connections than on qualifications either didn’t register with or bother the attorney general. Mr. Gonzales didn’t so much delegate as abdicate responsibility for ensuring that the department was being run in a professional and ethical manner. And while Mr. Gonzales epitomized in the extreme a “hands-off” management approach, his deputy, Paul J. McNulty, simply washed his hands of the matter. Mr. McNulty was not informed of the push to remove U.S. attorneys until very late in the process. When he was clued in, he did nothing to stop improper considerations, although the report says he objected to them.

And back on A17 of the NYT, current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a speech the headline claims is about the Pentagon bureaucracy, issues what looks to me like a pretty scathing assessment of his predecessor. Though Gates doesn’t mention Don Rumsfeld by name, Julian Barnes of the LA Times gets the real point of the speech:

Gates’ remarks were in sharp contrast to the views of his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, who believed that high-technology advances could help shorten wars and allow conflicts to be fought with ever fewer forces.

“Be modest about what military force can accomplish and what technology can accomplish,” Gates said.

He urged his audience to have an “appreciation of limits” of military power, arguing that although the U.S. has achieved huge advances in targeting and intelligence that have made attacks more precise, warfare is “inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.”

It also seems to me that if Barack Obama is elected, he should give serious consideration to keeping Gates on, at least for a while. The Defense Secretary has built a lot of credibility on both sides of the aisle, which is a remarkable achievement, given the situation he inherited.

UPDATE: Commenter sgwhiteinfla asks: Why was the comment about keeping Gates on only directed at Obama? Has John Mccain said he will keep Gates on already?

Good point. I phrased it that way, because I thought it would be far more counterintuitive for a Democratic President to retain a Republican Defense Secretary, especially given the role that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War has played in framing his entire candidacy. But the argument would be just as strong–probably stronger–for McCain to keep him.